Xiaomi‘s reputation precedes itself. The Chinese mobile internet company is legendary for punching above its class when it comes to consumer electronics and gadgets. When their flagship Mi 5 launched in Malaysia, it looked like a home run, but the truth is a little more complicated than that.
Take a look at one of their latest success stories, the Redmi Note 3, and you’ll see why Xiaomi is so adored in this part of the world. It’s a great smartphone in its own right and when you find out how much it costs, you have rational sound-minded individuals collectively flipping out with excitement.
The same could pretty much be said for the Xiaomi Mi 5 when it was first unveiled in Barcelona. Even the base model looked pretty good on paper with respectable specifications including a flagship processor, healthy amount of RAM and a reasonable amount of storage. Even the camera looked pretty good on paper.
But if I had to describe my time with the Mi 5 to you in one word, that word would be frustrating.
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If I asked you to think about a smartphone with good value, the name Xiaomi would probably be close to the top of your list. This brand has built their reputation on being able to create great products for a fraction of the price that the big boys are playing at. Being deal-hungry Malaysians, we eat that up and continue to be hungry for more.
But here’s where things start to go south. At this point in time, many of us Malaysians feel a little left out during Xiaomi’s device launches. Why? Well, for starters, it usually takes months for any device, that the Chinese company launches, to finally hit our shores. Then when they do, all the good handsets get sold out in an instant during one of Xiaomi’s infamous flash sales.
So, it isn’t hard to see why many feel that we only get the scraps that Xiaomi can’t sell in other markets, and when you’re hungry, being left out at the dinner table fishing for what’s left over only makes you frustrated. Unfortunately that’s exactly what their new flagship Mi 5 feels like — leftovers.
Don’t get me wrong, the Mi 5 isn’t a terrible device in your traditional sense, especially not considering its price. But, there are definitely moments where you feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick.
Let me explain. The Mi 5 that we have on sale here in Malaysia is the base model. That means you get an underclocked 1.8GHz (down from the usual 2.15GHz) Snapdragon 820 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of non-expandable storage. In theory, the lower clock speed sacrifices some performance for a little more stability, less power consumption and better thermals.
However, that’s simply not the case with the Mi 5. Yes, performance does take a little dip as it’s not as snappy as some of the other flagships, but it also heats up really quickly and once it gets hot, it’ll start throttling. This caused my gaming session to get incredibly choppy as time went on. I can live with the slightly less snappy performance, but I simply can’t wrap my head around the overheating and throttling. At least, the battery is fairly average, consistently putting in about three and a half hours of screen on time — four if you’re a light user.
But if you compare it to something like the HTC 10, which also has a 3,000 mAh battery, it’s surprising to see the Mi 5 only being able to match the 10’s battery life. In theory, the lower resolution 5.15-inch Full HD display, underclocked CPU and fewer RAM should be able to last longer, but it doesn’t. It even charges, via the USB Type-C port, a little slower than the 10, giving a 34% charge in about 30 mins while taking about 2 hours to fully top up.
So yes, performance isn’t the Mi 5’s strong point, but, that’s not the end of the handset’s woes. You’ve also got the fairly average 16-megapixel f/2.0 primary camera.
Image quality is OK, but it won’t blow you away especially compared to the other flagship cameras. However, performance is a little sluggish for a flagship device and if you’re someone who enjoys taking HDR photos then you’ll have to get used to holding still for more than two Mississippis to get a blur-free shot.
Things don’t get better when the going gets dark either, as images tend to get pretty noisy and focusing becomes far less accurate than in the light. It’s definitely not a shoot-from-your-hip kind of smartphone camera.
If I was reading this review, I would’ve probably written the Mi 5 off in my books at this point and moved on. But, there’s still one undeniable selling point of Xiaomi’s latest flagship and that’s how much they’re selling it for. The thought of getting a flagship smartphone for under RM1,600 is really enticing no matter how you look at it.
For that kind of money, the Mi 5 is probably one of the best built and best feeling smartphones in the market right now, if you’re into that glass back. Its steep ergonomic curve feels really nice in your hand and the size makes it really comfortable to hold.
The fingerprint sensor is also pretty good, much better than the (far) more expensive Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. It feels a lot like Apple’s Touch ID and that’s about as high praise as it gets for a front-mounted fingerprint sensor that’s tucked under a physical home button.
It’s also incredibly light. Often times I’d almost forget that it was in my pocket because of how weightless it felt. That means watching videos is less tiring on the hands and it dramatically reduces the likelihood of you dropping it on your face by accident. But, you might want to get a Bluetooth speaker (or headphones) for watching videos because the single bottom-firing speaker is awful.
So, is the Mi 5 for you? Well, if you want a well-built, light, ergonomically-sound “flagship” smartphone and only have RM1,549 to spend then probably yes. In fact, you could probably get it for less than the RRP if you pick it up with promo codes or through cashback services.
But, it’s definitely not a device I’d buy because it’s like going to a Ford dealership with the intention of buying a Mustang and leaving with the 2.3-litre Ecoboost. Yeah, sure, you can tell people you have a Mustang and it sure as hell looks like a Mustang but deep down you, and probably everyone else around you, knows that it’s not a Mustang.
Not the right one, anyway.
Here are some more shots from the Mi 5’s camera. Click on each image to view a full resolution copy.